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Wellness Tip: Probiotic Dos and Don’ts

If you find yourself confused by the term “probiotic,” you’re not alone. The sale and use of probiotics have grown exponentially over the past decade and a half, with roughly 4 million American adults saying they have taken one within the last 30 days. But many of us have been left wondering if the train has already left the station. Is this something that will benefit everyone? Or is it another self-proclaimed miracle treatment in an industry known for health infusion cocktails and life-changing full-body cleanses? 

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics are certain forms of living microorganisms ingested for a host of reported health benefits. The perks are wide-ranging and can depend on exactly what type of microorganism strain you take. Some are said to promote healthier digestion, a huge help for the estimated 70 million Americans who regularly suffer from diarrhea, constipation, and acid reflux. Others have been known to attack disease-causing cells throughout the body, though an FDA endorsement is still pending. Some strains have even shown the potential to assist the body with vitamin content.

Whatever type of probiotic you’re taking, keep in mind that it’s a living bacteria — and that’s okay! It joins the estimated 40 trillion other healthy bacteria that live in our gut biomes daily.

Photo Courtesy Michele Blackwell

Like any hot health trend, the food and beverage industries embraced probiotics with open arms. Most grocery stores and gas stations in the U.S. sell at least one item containing miniature armies of these friendly bacteria, whether it be kombucha drinks, several popular yogurt brands, or even some protein bars and workout supplements. Being that people can easily grab a tasty drink with their lunch leads many to believe that they’re now definitively healthier than they were before. That’s far from the truth, and how you treat your probiotic consumption is the most crucial factor in seeing health differences. 

How Should Probiotics Be Taken?

For one, these newly introduced microorganisms can only survive in the gut for a brief period. Only from daily consumption do these bacteria have enough exposure to have an impact.

Another essential part of taking probiotics is taking prebiotics. As the name suggests, prebiotics should be taken in tandem with probiotics, with the former functioning as the energy source for the latter.

They are a form of nondigestible carbohydrate used by gut bacteria to help them multiply, thus creating or enhancing the desired effect of the probiotic. Prebiotics can be found in supplement form, though experts say that benefits are far more pronounced when getting them from natural food sources like bananas, asparagus, whole grains, and garlic. 

Photo Courtesy Juan Encalada

What Are The Best Supplements?

Finally, those taking either prebiotics or probiotics in supplement form will need to take extra steps to ensure the microorganisms even make the trip in the first place. The acidity of the human gut makes it an incredibly corrosive environment, especially for any supplements that need to make it to the intestine to feel their impact. Buying supplements that are coated or taking the supplement with food are a couple of ways to ensure your bacteria are reaching their destination.

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